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May
8
2013

Is your book still in your head? -- by Tobias D. Robison -- by Tobias D. Robison

 

When you’re wondering how good your writing is, the best way to find out is to get comments from at least five hundred readers. A tiny group of readers makes a poor statistical sample. Critiquers at Critique Circle present a better alternative. They will offer an extraordinary variety of insights. Take a look at almost any chapter posted here, and marvel at how the critiques vary.

Critique Circle has had a profound affect on my writing. I discovered, both from critiques on my own writing, and from critiquing others, how dangerous it is for anyone to see their writing from their own point of view.

Other people will read your books. That’s the goal, right? It is not very important that they bring their own preconceptions, biases, misunderstandings and misapprehensions to your writing. It is much more important if your story is so clear to you, the author, that you failed to narrate it. People will fill in the missing gaps, and in the process, they will become angry, confused, and bored.

When my first novel, Raven’s Gift, was “almost finished,” I learned that I must develop an external view of my writing. If I failed to do that, how would I ever find the unintentional double entendres? How would I find those actions of my characters that seemed inevitable to me, but random or out of character to readers? How would I know if the setting of a striking scene still lay in my imagination, and had never made it to paper?

Our imagination is always with us when we review our own writing. But we have to learn to substitute a raw, uninformed imagination for our own.

Several of my early critiques at this website concerned Sci-Fi novels with busy battles and bustling action. A few of the authors I critiqued were writing descriptions of movies! They imagined the action movie (who can’t, in this age of movie blockbusters?) and then tried to write down what were really movie scenes.

If you come upon a scene like this – not, I hope, in your own writing – you will recognize it by your frustration in trying to see the action that the author invokes. He or she imagines it so clearly that those sights never make it into words.

Critique Circle also taught me a lot about Point of View (PoV) issues. We’ve all been taught how to distinguish different approaches to PoV and how to be consistent about them.

Reading many authors here, I discovered that “official” mistakes in shifts of PoV often seemed harmless. I learned to reject the formality of PoV rules that our helpful thought-police have provided. Today I believe there is only one PoV rule:

Do not shift the PoV if you will confuse your readers, unless you want to confuse them.

I also learned that there are many subtle and complex PoV issues. Sadly, the writers who enjoy teaching us the basics rarely step beyond them. I would like to conclude with a PoV example from my self-published novel, Raven’s Gift. Warning: This example is a spoiler, because it shows you how my novel ends. Here is what I wrote:

She ran to Orvannon. He reached his arms out to her. With a desperate sob she came in low, driving her knife into his belly, twisting upward, trying to reach his heart. She heard Amia scream. Orvannon’s mouth made an ‘oh.’ He spat blood, managed to say, “Raven...thanks,” and he collapsed, pulling her down onto him. She was happy to fall with him, cradling him in her arms, pressing herself to his chest, nuzzling her nose to his neck to breathe his scent one more time, weeping, weeping, weeping while Orvannon died.

The subtle issue here is whether I should have written Amia Screamed instead of She heard Amia scream.

This is not a question of wording. Amia Screamed is more concise, but I am sure it is wrong. PoV issues can be as complex as camera angles in a film. In my paragraph, I want my readers to be down there on the floor with Raven, not standing at the edge of the surrounding crowd. Amia Screamed suggests the more remote PoV. She heard Amia scream keeps the PoV in tight with weeping Raven.

By the way, my second fantasy novel, about Raven and grown-up Amia, should be self-published this year. There have been many changes from the version posted at CC. I did some brutal cutting, removing beloved minor characters and a subplot. I felt sick at the time, but when I re-read my text, I was amazed at how much my cutting had improved it.

What do you do with major cuts in your writing? I move the text that I excise to a subdirectory called “the cutting room floor.” I tell myself that I can always resurrect that material, and that enables those scenes and characters to live on in my mind.

 

BIO INFO: 

 

I’m retired from developing software. There’s no “real job” to prevent me from writing, but I have found that a life full of responsibilities and opportunities is quite an effective writer-blocker. I decided that my primary goal was to tell my stories, so I published Raven's Gift as a free audio book and an inexpensive eBook, as well as a paperback. I have an unusual method of advertising: I publish iPad game-FAQs at my website, RavensGift.com, and insert ads for my books in my FAQs. I have also published a healthy ePamphlet, Quantum Walking to Fitness. And I maintain a blog of cantankerous commentary at precision-blogging.blogspot.com.

 

 

Posted by Tobias D. Robison 8 May 2013 at 02:26
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Responses to this blog

Breeze 8 May 2013 at 12:31  
Sometimes all we need is someone to kindly show and explain what we can't see in our own work. Thanks, Toby, for your post.
Lindymoon 9 May 2013 at 06:28  

Lindymoon 9 May 2013 at 06:36  
Ha ha, that seems to have been an invisible comment! What I meant to say was:

Love this post, and your attitude, and your book (read it twice!), and you were one of the few who stuck with mine to the bitter end! (30 chapters, folks. That is dedication to critting.)

To answer your cutting question: my treasured little darlings go into a Pet Prose file. And guess what? I almost never visit them.

Team Toby!
Botanist 10 May 2013 at 07:49  
Actually, I don't think "Amia screamed" is a POV shift at all. If Raven could hear the scream, and knew who was screaming, then all you are doing is describe what Raven hears. Still from Raven's POV. Adding "She heard" is actually distancing the reader from Raven. Leaving it out brings us closer to Raven's experience. Just my 2 cents worth
Lucinda 12 May 2013 at 18:15  
Receiving comments from readers keeps me motivated to continue writing. However, if I don't get them, I still continue writing. My first published novel was read first by my boss. Family doesn't take me serious enough, I guess. My boss insisted I write a sequel to my novel because she loved the characters so much that she wants to get to know them better. Therefore, that is what I am doing.

The best critique I ever received was from my son who read a few pages of a novel (my first written, but yet to be published) and said, "Mom, I really don't like reading Shakespeare." It was a simple comment, but it was the beginning of my first rewrite and first step down a long road of learning to write.

What do we do with our "cuts"? At one time, I treasured anything and everything I wrote and cut/pasted them to a new document to save just in case I needed them. Today? I cut, delete, and chop without fear. If it doesn't read smoothly, and can't find a way to rewrite, I delete it to see how it reads. "Undo" is my friend. However, most times, it reads better without the troubled sentence or paragraph and I don't undo the cut.

Thank you for your great comments about POV. In my research and learning, I have learned many things about POV, and head-hopping is a real no-no. The only time omniscient POV can be effective is possibly in a family saga type of story. Since learning about POV's, I try to put myself inside the character whose POV I am narrating from and it seems to keep me from head hopping. The only time I change POV's is with a chapter break and my MC is not in the scene.

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